Restaurant Trends Part 2: What’s in Store for 2019

analysis of 2019 restaurant trends

Posted: Dec. 17, 2018

Fast-casual restaurants take on mid-range restaurants and Chinese restaurants offer new experiences.

In Part II of our analysis of 2019 restaurant trends, we continue with restaurant consulting agency Baum + Whiteman's predictions for the new year.

New Generation of Fast Casual Restaurants Serve High-Quality Food 

The next generation of fast-casual restaurants breaks the chains of low price-points. Chipotle and Shake Shack are struggling to maintain the high quality of their products while keeping check averages in the $10 to $14 range. The next crop of fast-casual restaurants won’t bother to stay within this price level anymore. Instead, they are going to keep the basic structure of fast casual and replace “fast food” with a sit-down-style of food preparation.

The overhead costs will remain low with walk-up counters, zero waiters or bussers, no reservations or decorative items; the costs will instead be applied to first-rate ingredients and wine. Their competitors, according to Baum + Whiteman, are “mid-scale, sit-down restaurants in high-rent locations that are crippled by high labor costs and lots of overhead. These new entrepreneurs offer similar meals at a bit more than half the price.”

Some examples given are Barzotto in San Francisco, where dinner for two with a bottle of wine comes to $85. In New York’s West Village, there is Kish-Kash, a Middle-Eastern-Mediterranean-style fast casual “coucouseria” with excellent toppings. Short rib couscous, chicken tagine, and two glasses of wine costs about $65.

This next generation of fast-casual restaurants removes the frills of sit-down dining, without sacrificing the quality of ingredients, preparation, or presentation. High-ranking chefs are cooking dishes to-order, and in many places, guests can choose from a selection of well-crafted, signature cocktails.

It’s an interesting restaurant model considering how expensive rent and labor costs are getting for urban-based restaurants. By removing the constraints of traditional overhead costs, owners and chefs operating restaurants in cities where the cost-of-living is high become competitive again. What’s wonderful is that adventurous and high-end ingredients are no longer stuck in the confines of a fine-dining kitchen. Now, the range of flavors becomes huge at mid-range prices.

Another bonus: With there being little difference between the FOH and BOH, tip distribution is no longer an issue. Restaurant POS systems often recommend a fair tipping amount at the get-go, making it easier for restaurant owners to implement a fair tip-pooling system.

Become a Chinese Chef … Almost

While you don’t learn the ins and outs of Chinese cooking, the latest exotic-food trend lets customers cook their own food. There are two styles, hot pot and “dry pot” cooking.

If you know fondue restaurants, then you are already familiar with the layout of a Chinese hot pot restaurant. It’s usually intended for groups, with square or round tables where every diner has access to the bubbling cauldron at the center. Broth flavors are chosen (the trendy choice in 2019 is the spicy Szechuan broth), and a “cornucopia of raw vegetables and proteins” are brought out. Over the next couple hours, a group dips the food into the broth, cooking until preferred doneness, and drinking the soup broth along the way.

Dry pot cooking is no different in execution; just replace the hot broth with a hot cooking plate. A chef prepares the raw meats and vegetables with different marinades and spices, and customers then can cook at the table.

Both styles are fun and communal, and most interestingly, show that American diners are ready for new, exciting food adventures. If you also consider the array of meats available—catfish, pig’s foot, frog legs, duck, and tripe—it shows that Americans are becoming more open-minded eaters. It’s an exciting time to run an exotic-culinary restaurant in the United States right now.

The rise in hot pot chains also shows that Chinese food is no longer seen as inexpensive take-out—it’s a quality meal with friends and family. With some chain restaurants hailing from China, and one restaurant, HaiDiLao, having billion-dollar backing, we wonder if we’ll see hot- and dry-pot restaurants around the country, from cities to strip malls.

Subscription Meal Kit Companies Are Struggling to Find Their Place, and Inspiring Restaurants to Make Their Own Meal Kits

Last year, we revealed that supermarkets would be lowering their costs, and this would attract more consumers to home cooking. Going into 2019, supermarkets continue to upstage restaurants by offering meal kits.

The meal kit industry might have the same success as a one-hit wonder; it was exciting at first and had everyone talking about it, but its second single wasn’t a success. Now, the food industry is wondering whether meal kits will wither away or morph into something else entirely. Here’s why: Meal kit companies cannot hold on to their customers. Industry leader, Blue Apron, has a meager 15% of subscribers maintaining annual subscriptions.

The reasons are varied: the “mountains” of harmful packaging are unattractive, people don’t enjoy getting a week’s worth of food in a box, and customers don’t like the pressure of a year-long commitment. All problems that supermarkets don’t have. It looks like after trying out the meal-kit life, customers are going more to supermarkets, and going to restaurants even more often.

In response, some meal kit companies have made deals with big grocery stores:

  • Home Chef was sold to Kroger.
  • Plated was sold to Albertsons.
  • Gobble is partnering with Walmart.
  • Blue Apron is available in some Costco stores.

Blue Apron is also shaking things up by offering its meal kits via delivery service Grub Hub, without a subscription.

Instead of relying on subscriptions, meal kit companies are putting their meals where customers are shopping for food. As Baum + Whiteman states, “Here’s where impulse triumphs over commitment.” And the same logic applies to restaurants. With so many daily customers, restaurants could find huge success with serving ready-to-cook meals.

Chick-Fil-A is testing out the idea now. In a few markets, consumers can buy crispy Dijon chicken, chicken parmesan, chicken enchiladas, chicken flatbread, and pan-roasted chicken with greens. The “meal kits” serve two and cost under $16; lower than the average online meal kit that costs around $20.

Is this a feasible option for restaurants? Baum + Whiteman believe that for struggling casual dining chains, it might be. They could sell dinner to the lunch crowd, or lunch to the dinner crowd, and use a la carte pricing and packaging to create on-demand meal kits. Restaurants have the staff and kitchen know-how to be as flexible as necessary, and they have a constant flow of customers to rely on. The potential for success is huge.

If you missed the first round of 2019 food trend predictions, see Restaurant Trends Part One: What’s in Store in 2019.




Posted: Dec. 17, 2018 | Written By: Emma Alois


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